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Showing their appreciation

Farmers signal their appreciation for nurses, with a bean field message near Odebolt

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Soybean message of support

Sac County farmers, from left, Chase Roeder, his father Dan Roeder and Casey Friedrichsen, stand at a soybean field where they planted a message of a heart emoji and the word NURSES southeast of Odebolt, Iowa. The farmers created the message by planting the letters with a later maturing variety of beans to make them stay greener longer than the background.

ODEBOLT, Iowa -- Dan Roeder holds the nurses of Northwest Iowa in high regard. Several of them are friends and neighbors in Ida and Sac counties, and when there's a farm accident, those nurses are there to help their friends and neighbors. 

Ten years ago, his son Chase Roeder was hurt in a crash on the farm. A nurse who cared for him at the hospital in Ida Grove, before he was airlifted to Sioux City, was a family friend. 

When that nurse got home, Roeder said, she cried after her husband asked how Chase was -- she wasn't allowed to talk about it, but she was overwhelmed by the sight of the seriously injured boy, the son of a friend. 

"We know these nurses, and we need these nurses, as farmers, you know, we get in fender benders," said Roeder, 52, a fourth-generation farmer who along with son Chase and several employees farms in Ida, Woodbury, Monona and Sac counties. 

Soybean message of support

A aerial photograph of a soybean field planted by Sac County farmers Chase Roeder, Dan Roeder and Casey Friedrichsen is shown Sept. 4 southeast of Odebolt, Iowa, near the intersection of 360th Street and Ira Avenue.

"Really, they (nurses) do a whole lot for us and everything, I mean all those hours, all the stress and everything," said Chase Roeder, 21. 

Nurses had a tough spring and summer, when their hospitals were inundated with COVID-19. It was especially hard for nurses whose spouses are farmers. 

"These nurses, these ladies, they were scared going to work, and they were scared of bringing something home. They're probably more scared coming home, they didn't want to pass it on to their husbands, because it was planting season," Dan Roeder said. 

Despite the risks, the nurses didn't skip work to shelter at home. But at the same time, a farmer can't be quarantined for 14 days during the critical planting season -- it would be ruinous. "That's just not an option, when you have to plant, you have to plant," he added. 

Another nurse Roeder knows, who lives in the Schaller area and works at a Storm Lake medical facility, would cry on her drive home after work when the outbreak there got out of hand late this spring. She and her husband thought about living separately for safety's sake, but she was needed to help around the farm. 

"She was somewhat joking, but she said she prayed half the rosary going to work, the other half coming home, that she wouldn't get the COVID," Dan Roeder said. 

In April, Chase Roeder and Casey Friedrichsen (an employee who Dan Roeder described as their "farming partner" and "main guy") came up with an idea. They'd plant a great, big sign to celebrate nurses, in a soybean field southeast of Odebolt.

Dan Roeder fell in love with the idea when it was discussed at a morning meeting. 

The lettering would be a later-maturing soybean, which would remain green as the surrounding beans -- a separate variety that matures earlier -- turned yellow and dry. 

Their high-tech farm machinery was capable of the project, but they needed some technical help. Other farmers have done comparable projects in the past (corn mazes, decorative crop circles and the like), but this was a first for the Roeders. 

Soybean message of support

A aerial photograph of a soybean field planted by Sac County farmers Chase Roeder, Dan Roeder and Casey Friedrichsen is shown Sept. 4 southeast of Odebolt, Iowa, near the intersection of 360th Street and Ira Avenue.

"I don't know the technology," Roeder said. 

So they got in touch with Jerry Ullrich, a precision ag consultant at C & B Operations, a John Deere dealership in Ida Grove. Ullrich spent three hours drawing the letters out on a computer program, which sets boundaries where the machine puts seed and where not to put seed. 

Friedrichsen, in charge of the planter, seeded the lettering first in the later-maturing bean, then cleaned out the machine and did a reverse-sweep, planting the other beans that would form the background.

"The first pass we made to make the letters, they were set as exterior boundaries, so it would only plant inside of those boundaries, and then we re-switched the field back to make those our interior boundaries, so then when we drove through them it wouldn't plant them," Ullrich said. 

Part of the letter "R" had to be seeded by hand, but otherwise the technology worked flawlessly. 

The Love Nurses message was largely invisible this summer, because both varieties of soybean, while immature, were an indistinguishable shade of green. But at the end of last week, the earlier beans finally ripened to perfection, leaving the green lettering distinctly visible from the air.

As the message began to emerge from the field late in the summer, neighbors grew curious. 

"People would be driving by the field, and they wouldn't say it to us, but they'd mention it to someone else in town or wherever, if they knew us a little bit, and they were wondering, 'Did they spell something out in that field, or what's all those letters?'" Chase Roeder said. 

Dan Roeder was initially worried the end result of his experiment wouldn't be satisfactory (he said he wouldn't have told anyone about it if it wasn't) -- but the field-art project turned out about as well as he could've hoped. 

"We're just so tickled the way it turned out, it's so crisp and clear," he said. 

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